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Blacks And Whites Need To Wake Up To Racial Injustice

Memo Pad Politics

Blacks And Whites Need To Wake Up To Racial Injustice


In September, I received an email that should have left me feeling vindicated.

It was in response to the non-fatal shooting of Levar Jones, an unarmed African-American man, by Sean Groubert, a white South Carolina state trooper. Groubert would later claim he shot Jones because Jones came at him in a menacing way. But this lie was unmasked by Groubert’s own dashcam video, which shows Jones complying with the trooper’s orders until Groubert inexplicably panics and starts shooting.

That video moved a reader named David to write the following: “Think I FINALLY get what you’ve been saying all along. That cop just shot him down for doing nothing more than compiling [sic] with his commands. No offense to black people, but I SURE AM GLAD I’M NOT BLACK IN THIS COUNTRY! Re-evaluating my opinions of the last 50 years.”

As I say, it should have felt like vindication. But it only made me sad. I kept thinking that, had there been no camera to prove Groubert lied, had there been only testimony from witnesses and whatever forensic evidence was gathered, Groubert would likely still be making traffic stops and David would support him, his opinions of the last 50 years unchanged.

My point is not that cameras are a panacea for justice — they weren’t for Oscar Grant in 2009, they weren’t for Rodney King in 1991, they weren’t for Abram Smith and Thomas Shipp in 1930. No, my point is that the bar of proof is set higher when white people — police officers in particular — kill black ones. My point is that rules change and assumptions are different when black people seek justice.

Knowing that, who can be surprised at what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, Monday night? Who can be surprised that a prosecutor who didn’t seem to want an indictment did not convince a grand jury to return one in the August shooting of Michael Brown? Who can be surprised that Officer Darren Wilson now goes on with his life after firing 12 shots, at least six of which struck home, at an unarmed teenager while said teenager remains imprisoned by the grave? Who can be surprised people in Ferguson and around the country convulsed with shock, sorrow and disbelief? Who can be surprised some vulturous knuckleheads saw the calamity as an excuse to break windows and steal beer? Who can be surprised at pictures showing that the “injuries” Wilson sustained in his scuffle with Brown, injuries that supposedly made him so terrified for his life that he had to shoot, amount to a small abrasion on his lip and a reddened cheek?

I’m glad that video helped David to “FINALLY get” what I’ve been “saying all along,” i.e., that a police officer’s mouth, to use one of my mother’s expressions, ain’t no prayer book; no source of infallible truth the way too many of us think it is. And that benefit of the doubt is something black people are often denied. And that America devalues black life. But if we have to go David by David to those realizations, each requiring a dashcam video before he gets the point, we are doomed to a long and dreary future of Fergusons.

Last year, when the thug George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin, I wrote that black people need to “wake the h–l up” — organize, boycott, vote, demonstrate, demand.

But black people aren’t the only ones sleeping. Too many — not all, but too many — white people still live in air castles of naivete and denial, still think abiding injustice and ongoing oppression are just some fairy tale, lie, or scheme African-Americans concocted to defraud them. Or else that these things are far away and have no impact on their lives. The fires in Ferguson Monday night suggest that they continue that delusion at their own peril.

I still think black folks need to wake the h–l up.

But white ones do, too.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Photo: A St. Louis County Police tactical team arrives on West Florissant Avenue to disperse the crowd as the Beauty Town store burns on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

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Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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  1. Dominick Vila November 26, 2014

    As it happens so often, the riots and looting in Ferguson managed to shift our attention from the discrimination and injustices that should be evident to everyone to lawless behavior unworthy of a great society. The end result is that instead of remembering the abuses, arrests, imprisonment, and killings of so many young African American males nationwide, often for no real reason or because of petty crimes, what people will remember is the destruction of property and people taking advantage of an unfortunate situation to steal a TV set or laptop.
    Anarchy is not synonymous to protest or peaceful manifestations of outrage over a systemic that should embarrass every American. The issue, that I fear will be lost by the time the violent protests end, goes well beyond the shootings of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and so many other young black men. The real issue is the fact that our society has not yet reached the level of maturity needed to accept people of other ethnicity and cultures as fellow human beings, and work together towards a common cause. We have made great strides since the Civil Rights movement, but much remains to be done, and it must begin by everyone teaching their children how to behave, and teaching them values conducive to acceptance and respect for the rights of others.
    In an oblique way, the impasse that prevent us from talking honestly about the issue of race in America, and that prevent us from considering each other as equal, is eerily evident in what is happening to our political process, where distrust, inability to work to achieve a common – with the betterment of our society and the security of our country as its centerpiece – and the overt hatred that precludes cooperation and compromise, are the norm. What is happening in the USA is not caused by a single man, a political party, or a single issue. It is a struggle influence, in part, by our history, and a last attempt by the majority to prevent, or at least delay, the social evolution that is inevitable in a country where rights and opportunities are available to all its citizens.

    1. FireBaron November 26, 2014

      Unfortunately, Dom, too many people were going to use whatever the Grand Jury did or did not do as an excuse for whatever violence they intended. Had an indictment been issued, they would have rioted and looted in “celebration”. My disappointment was that the MNG was not actually IN Ferguson when the statement was made. Had they been present, it is possible that the violence would have been minimized.

      1. Canistercook November 26, 2014

        If this is an example of how a civilized society should behave then there is more need to control behavour not less. People who have worked hard to serve the people of Ferguson had their businesses destroyed and looted. To keep blaming others for your failures will only make things worse. What do you expect the taxpaying public to do next for these thugs?.

        1. JPHALL November 26, 2014

          How about law enforcement doing its job instead of trying to stop legitimate protests. They had three months to prepare for what anyone with a brain knew was going to happen.
          During this time they arrested dozens of outside trouble makers yet still could not stop the violence. I was not the protestors but agitators and criminals that caused the violence.

    2. plc97477 November 26, 2014

      Many say that the fact that Obama is half black means racism is over totally ignoring the hatred and vitriol that is constantly being thrown his way.

      1. Dominick Vila November 26, 2014

        One of the most ridiculous claims used by bigots to justify their hatred and actions is to accuse the victims of racism of being racist. Then again, maybe they are outraged by the fact that those being abused are unwilling to take it the way their ancestors did before the Civil War and, on top of that, they have the audacity to demand justice! (please excuse the sarcasm).
        I saw a post a few minutes ago on Facebook voicing outrage and showing a picture of people looting stores in Ferguson, and running out with pairs of Air Jordans. Should we assume that for some, the life of a human being is worth less than a pair of Air Jordan sneakers?

        1. plc97477 November 26, 2014

          Very good question. As for me a human life no matter the color of the person is worth more than all the crap that has been taken in the protests. I wish they wouldn’t go lawless in their anger, but their anger is very understandable.

          1. Dominick Vila November 27, 2014

            Their anger is influenced by the fact that they see their preferred way of life falling apart, fear of change, and fear of anyone who does not look or sound like them. It is a manifestation of ignorance, insecurity, and prejudice.
            Happy Thanksgiving!

    3. mike November 26, 2014

      As long as the Racial Hustlers are given influence in the media and in the White House nothing will change. If Obama has this big meeting to discuss this issue and Sharpton is a part of it, then all should see what it is, a sham.
      When you see that 85% of crimes in the cities being done by blacks. Black on Black crime at record highs, blacks killing blacks at horrific rate, but to hear them it is all the fault of whites. Where are the black leaders??? MIA.
      People killed by police over a 7 year period averaged 420. FBI,DOJ
      It is undetermined racial breakdown and hard to give exact numbers. So to your “killing of so many young black males” by police is just horse manure. Still, blacks killed is higher than whites being killed by police. The fact that 93% of young black men kill is by other blacks is a fact. White on white is no better with about 84%.
      Blacks are their own worst enemy.

      1. JPHALL November 26, 2014

        I see you are still using fake statistics to prove your point. It is a shame that you can not rise above your ignorance the article speaks about.

      2. Dominick Vila November 26, 2014

        I don’t recall saying that African Americans are not killing other African Americans, or that there is no violence in neighborhoods where poverty and despair prevail in the richest country in the world. You are 100% correct on that one.
        Thank you for providing the statistic on the number of African Americans gunned down by police during a 7 year period. Are we supposed to relish on the fact that “only” 420 were killed by law enforcement officers trained to defend themselves, handle difficult situations, and use lethal force as a last resort? Shooting an unarmed 18 year old teenager 7 times is not a trivial matter, or evidence of self defense. It is unadulterated murder. Leaving his body laying on the street for 4.5 hours for everyone to see, including his mother, is the epitome of cruelty and inhumanity. Not surprisingly, what is circulating in the
        social media is not the crime that was committed, or the fact that the murderer got away with murder, but the fact that buildings were burned and businessmen suffered tremendous losses as a result of looting. The concern over material losses, and the indifference to a heinous crime says it all.
        Regarding all the claims about a 300 Lb Ninja attacking a helpless police officer, who forgot basic self defense and how to protect himself, all I have to say is since when is obesity evidence of strength?

        1. mike November 26, 2014

          First, you said “killing of so many young blacks males” by police, is just not the case. I gave you an average of 420 killed by cops per year were not all black. Probably about 2/3 were black but since the race is not kept by FBI or DOJ we really don’t know. You make it sound like many more are killed by cops every year. You sure don’t want to go near the violence and real murder rates between black on black.

          Only in your eyes is the hitting of a police officer in the face while sitting in his squad car, trying to take Wilson’s gun away from him. having 2 shots fired in the car while struggling for the gun and one hitting Brown’s hand and his blood, DNA on Wilson clothes and gun, Brown’s finger prints on the door and inside the care, is it called murder. You refuse to accept that blood was found 25 feet past where his body ended up meaning Brown had turned around and headed back towards Wilson. Wilson had every right to protect himself!!! Only in your eyes does he not have that right.

          Your ignorant remark that they left his body in the street so long was really cruel, inhuman, ergo, a racist act is just crap. They knew they had to protect the area and do a complete forensic investigation. Was he covered? Yes!! Was this a tragedy? Absolutely!!! For once learn the facts.


          What is evident is that a community with an already high unemployment rate will see it go higher and many more blacks and citizens will suffer. What is evident the city of Ferguson will never be the same and more than likely never recovery.

          As to your last paragraph, it is thoughts of a mental midget pure and simple.

          1. Dominick Vila November 27, 2014

            I don’t refuse to accept what the trail of blood, leading to the place where Michael Brown finally fell, means. It confirms what the forensic personnel and the police department in Ferguson are trying to hide: Michael Brown was shot 8 times and struggled to get away until the fatal shot in the head was fired.
            Interestingly, no pictures of the crime scene were taken, allegedly because the battery in the coroner’s camera was dead. No measurements were made at the scene of the crime because, according to the local authorities, what happened was self evident. What happened in Ferguson was a crime, and the criminal is going to get away with murder.

          2. mike November 27, 2014

            So no photos of the crime scene were taken, Right??? Not even by the St. Louis county police department who was in charge of the forensic gathering. If you had done any reading at all you would have found the St. Louis county police were in charge and that the Ferguson examiner accompanied them around the scene.


            What a pathetic liar you are, and even a bigger mental midget. It was not a murder.

          3. Dominick Vila November 27, 2014

            The photos taken at the scene of the crime were not taken by the criminal investigator in charge. Many were taken by police officers using their cell phones, and by the dozens of people that gathered at the scene of the crime, including Michael Brown’s mother. The same goes for the measurements that even the most incompetent forensic investigator is expected to do at a crime scene. This is not a lie, it is a fact.

            Another fact involves the reality of black kids being 21x more likely to be shot by a police officer than a white kid. Yes, Black on Black crime, and Latino on Latino crime, is disturbing and should not be ignored, but that does not exonerate a police officer firing 8 shots and killing an unarmed 18 year old African American.
            If you don’t understand that, and if you are among those who lament the destruction of property and looting, which should not have happened, instead of being concerned over something that should not happen in a civilized country, that is your problem…and the reason for a status quo that is likely to be with us for many generations to come.

            In addition to police officers being trained on how to enforce the law, they are also trained in the use of lethal weapons and self defense. Shooting an unarmed person 8 times has nothing to do with the fact that the victim punched the officer earlier, it demonstrates that, as a minimum, that the police officer lost control and took action unbecoming of a person expected to uphold the law and maintain the peace. The worst part of this tragedy, however, is the fact that a Grand Jury, overwhelmed with incriminating evidence designed to turn Michael Brown into a heinous criminal, did not indict the person responsible for the killing of an unarmed human being. Had he been indicted, and an impartial prosecutor, defense, and jury had ruled that Officer Wilson was innocent, there is a good chance those riots would not have taken place. The riots were influenced by the frustration of thousands of people who, right or wrong, are convinced that our justice system and law enforcement agencies do not protect their rights, and are only designed
            to protect the rights of the privileged class.

  2. Daniel Max Ketter November 26, 2014

    I used to live near Ferguson back in my Ford Motor days, and believe me those cops are racist thugs. It didn’t surprise me this would happen

    1. Dominick Vila November 27, 2014

      An interesting facet of the shameful Grand Jury proceedings we just witnessed, is the fact that the prosecutor that did not hesitate to provide the Grand Jury with all the evidence they needed to turn Michael Brown into a criminal, did not include any records of Officer Wilson’s past. I wonder why…

      1. Daniel Max Ketter November 27, 2014

        It’s because they are criminal cops. I’d even gotten a speeding ticket from them from going 45 in a 30. Big deal

  3. NoNumberNow November 29, 2014

    FBI stats show that for 3 major crimes-murder, robbery and vice–blacks account for a significantly disproportionate share. 58% of prison inmates are black, but blacks, overall, account for about only 30% of crime. It seems that our law enforcement personnel and our court system are doing more to perpetuate racism than the citizen on the street. Why are police shooting someone because he moves his hand? Why are police not using non-lethal rounds? Why is retreat not an option? There is no reason that Ferguson had be destroyed over someone jaywalking. Too many police are acting like wannabe military commandos on the hunt. Let’s ask the cops to not carry guns–then what will be the attitude change of the police? Will they start working to prevent crime instead of being the antagonists?

  4. Elliot J. Stamler November 29, 2014

    Not one word about the fact – not opinion – that the amount of crime committed by blacks is enormously higher than that by whites proportionate to population. Until the black community wakes up to that fact things won’t change and Pitts, another black with chips on both soldiers, can rant and rave about imaginary pervasive white racism until doomsday. A white racist population would not have twice elected a black president, one for whom I a white American voted.


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